The enemy is capital

Submitted by Matthew on 7 October, 2015 - 11:06 Author: Martin Thomas

In the 1970s, Hoxton, just north and west of Brick Lane, site of the now-notorious Cereal Killer Cafe mobbed by a publicity-seeking anarchist group on 26 September, was a stronghold of the fascist National Front.

The national headquarters of the NF, a scarier outfit than the BNP of recent years, was on Great Eastern Street, halfway between the two areas.

Hoxton's population was ageing, white, of the least organised sections of the working class or of the "lumpenproletariat" (chronically unemployed), and embittered. Brick Lane's population was overwhelmingly Bengali, also poor, and sufficiently alarmed that for a while local activists organised an anti-fascist defence squad to patrol the streets every night.

The NF frequently rallied in Hoxton market, and felt confident enough to sell papers regularly at the top of Brick Lane.

Since then both Hoxton and Brick Lane have been "gentrified", partly by the construction of private housing, and partly by a daytime influx of relatively well-off workers. This is a big centre of the art world in London, and it is "Tech City" or "Silicon Roundabout".

My own area, just over the Islington-Hackney border from Hoxton, has been changed by the same process.

I agree with Gemma Short when she writes (Solidarity 378): "We don't want to live in ghettoised working-class communities" (or, I'd add, communities which ghettoise the poorest sections of the working class, with the lumpenproletariat, from the better-off sections). "Fetishing the 'working-class street' of a greasy spoon and a betting shop is reactionary".

I'd go further. "Gentrification" in our area has, on balance, had positive effects. Racism is on the defensive. The population is much more diverse than 40 or even 20 years ago. Facilities are better.

Gemma writes: "No doubt, the laundrettes, greengrocers and corner shops that used to provide for a working-class community have been replaced". They haven't.

The area has laundrettes. It has never (in recent decades) had many greengrocers, but it has some. Since World War Two bombing, it has been an area of council blocks rather than terraced streets, and so without corner shops, but there are now more and better "corner"-type shops than there were.

"Ghettoised" council estates on the edges of cities are less liable than the inner city to have better-off people coming to live there, or to see better-paid industries developing. That is a disadvantage, not an advantage. Those estates may have nothing to serve local shoppers unready to pay for a taxi to the supermarket beyond one or two shops with small stocks and high prices, sometimes just a mobile shop.

It is stultifying and self-abasing, not revolutionary, to regard the small art galleries or the very numerous Vietnamese cafes now in Hoxton as alien invasions, and to look to a golden age when everyone was a virtuous proletarian who wanted nothing beyond what could be got from a laundrette, a greengrocer, and a corner shop.

I've seen a similar process, but in that case of average-to-poor working-class areas getting an influx of those a bit better off, rolling through the suburbs of Brisbane from where my daughters live to the two suburbs beyond them on the railway line. Again, on balance local working-class people gain.

Yes, some things are lost. Yes, there is a risk that local working-class people will be driven out; but it can be resisted. Yes, some of the newcomers will be daft and pretentious.

But the enemy is capital, not daft and pretentious middle-class people, and not slightly better-off working-class people. Proletarian "miserabilism", the habit of wallowing in "us poor workers" philistinism, is not socialist.

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